School Survey: 2004

Do America’s design schools encourage interdisciplinary collaboration?

The Metropolis Survey of North American design schools has become an annual event, marking academia’s response to the crucial issues reshaping twenty-first-century practices. This year we focus on interdisciplinary collaboration, which we believe is an essential skill for any complex assignment requiring a deep understanding of environmental sustainability, universal access, craft and technology, and sensitivity to local cultures in a global market. Because we’ve been hearing from students who say they yearn to work in teams rather than in isolation, we asked them to weigh in, too. The response exceeded our expectations, and may surprise teachers. During a three-week period in May, while our questions were posted on, we received 1,115 responses (790 of them from students, both grad and undergrad).

Though future designers are ready to collaborate, many say they find opportunities to do so only by entering competitions or working on special projects; some of them even initiate such projects on their own. They talk freely about the difficulties of collaboration, citing obstacles in language use (every discipline has its own jargon) and in the skills and commitments of team members, and they are highly critical of the work ethics of others. But most want to do it again.

It’s important to note that the Metropolis survey itself is a result of youthful collaboration: Laurie Manfra created it, Jack Szwergold posted it, and Tim SooHoo tabulated it—without a hitch. Take a look at these pages and examine how teachers and students see interdisciplinary learning.

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